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Thursday, July 26, 2007

What Got You Here, Won't Get You There.

It’s a rainy, rather cool day on Rehoboth Beach today. Not the best day to be at the beach. So, my reading of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows is suspended for now.

I’ve got another project. I’ve just ordered copies of the book, What Got You Here Won’t Get You There, by Marshall Goldsmith for my wardens and every member of my vestry. It’s our summer reading project which we will discuss during our September meeting.

We’ve been looking for a way to evaluate our mutual ministry at St. Paul’s. We have previously used the tool provided by the national church center – well, parts of it anyway. It’s very, very thorough – exhaustingly and, in my opinion, unnecessarily so.

Bottom line: We’re not going to go through THAT again. For all of the work, it really didn’t yield satisfactory results. I suppose its most valuable asset is the assumption that the ministry of the church is mutual, and that any evaluation of the rector/vicar’s ‘performance’ is deeply flawed without factoring in the participatory performance of the rest of the leadership team.

I don’t mean to diminish the value of the evaluative tool, but once you ‘get’ that concept, the rest can become an exercise in tedium. It’s very, very important and can be radically transformative for congregations and their pastors and elected leadership. But, going through that process more than once is more than I can bear.

I have also found that the greater the “applicability” of the stuff of church to the common stuff of life, the better the ownership of the project and the greater the participation.

Okay, okay. I am talking about that term the “fungelicals” love to hate: relevance. I’m sorry, but most things ecclesiastical – from preaching to music, running a vestry meeting and raising up leadership, and yes, even to the evaluation of the effectiveness of the ministry we share in Christ’s name – have got to have some relevance and find application to other parts of people’s lives.

What Got You Here Won’t Get You There is, I think, a book that provides a framework for the kind of mutual-ministry evaluation which will help us in the church as well as provide a substantial measure of benefit to folk in their daily life and work.

As you might guess from the title, its basis is unapologetically psychological and its spirituality is unashamedly Buddhist. According to the notes in the jacket cover, Goldsmith is “America’s preeminent executive coach.” Coaching, a relatively new term, has become important among church leaders. Our bishop has had one for five years, and continues to employ his skills and abilities in his new Episcopal administration.

Goldsmith has a Ph.D from UCLA and is on the faculty of the Executive Education Programs at Dartmouth College’s Tuck School of Business. Pretty impressive, right? Well then, you won’t be surprised when you find yourself impressed with the contents of this book.

What Got You Here is decidedly for those who have been successful and do not want to rest on their laurels.

I know. I know. In these days when everyone is wringing their hands about what is wrong with the church and how the theological sky is falling, it seems a strange place to begin, doesn’t it?

Success? Who me? We’re the Episcopal Church. We’re dying, haven’t you heard?

The truth of our lives in Christ is that we have a lot more successes than we have failures. We’ve simply been allowing others to define our failures for us, based on a zealous, evangelical notion of the church. Has anyone else noticed that many of our most severe critics are those who are either members of or pastors to failing congregations? (Go ahead. Check out the parochial reports of some of our ‘worthy opponents’. It’s an eye-opener, to be sure.)

With a few notable exceptions, which, I think have more to do with the cultural realities of different parts of our country, I have come to understand and accept that the impulse for ‘mega church’ is simply not in the ecclesiastical DNA of The Episcopal Church.

You should excuse the dated expression, but once you ‘shift your paradigm’ from to quantity over to quality, the understanding of your success will far outweigh your sense failure. Indeed, you begin to understand that Goldsmith is right. The problem is not our failures. The mystical, deep spiritual truth is that our previous success often prevents us from achieving more success.

Goldsmith sums this up by a quote from Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing: “Happy are they that can hear their detractions and put them to mending.”

His methodology begins by taking a searing, honest self-evaluation of what it is we believe about ourselves, examining the “delusions” we create about ourselves and our lives which are, he maintains, a direct result of success, not failure.

He also talks about the ‘cognitive dissonance’ – the disconnect between what we believe in our minds and what we experience or see in reality – between what we believe about choosing to succeed and the changes necessarily required by that choice. Goldsmith says, “The more we are committed to believing that something is true, the less likely we are to believe that its opposite is true, even in the face of clear evidence that shows we are wrong.”

I can think of at least three examples of that in my own life, much less my church. Can you?

Expanding on this, Goldsmith also asserts that our success can make us superstitious. “Psychologically speaking,” Goldsmith says, “superstitious behavior comes from the mistaken belief that a specific activity that is followed by positive reinforcement is actually the cause of that positive reinforcement. The activity may be functional or not – that is, it may affect someone or something else, or it may be self-contained and pointless – but if something good happens after we do it, then we make a connection and seek to repeat the activity.”

Sound silly? Not when you read some of Goldsmith’s powerful examples, summed up in the statement, “I behave this way and I achieve results. Therefore, I must be achieving results because I behave this way.”

That sounds to my ears like the cultural version of the seven last words of a dying church, “But, we’ve always done it this way.

It’s also the unspoken mission statement of a church on a journey, far far away from the path that leads to the Realm of God: “Planning for the future by building a better yesterday.”

All of this leads us to the paradox of success: Our beliefs and delusions that carried us ‘here’ may be holding us back in our quest to go ‘there’.

I’ve been working on designing an evaluative tool based on Goldsmith’s ‘Twenty Habits That Hold You Back From the Top’ and ‘Seven Ways We Can Change For The Better’. I’ll whet your appetite by listing them here.

Twenty Habits That Hold You Back From The Top

Goldsmith says,
“I hasten to add that these are a very specific breed of flaws. They are not flaws of skill. I can’t fix that. . . . Nor are they flaws in intelligence. It’s too late for me to make you smarter . . .Nor are they flaws of unchangeable personality. We’re not attempting psychiatry here, and we can’t deliver vital pharmacological medication via a book. Consult an M.D.”

“What we’re dealing with here are challenges in interpersonal behavior, often leadership behavior. They are the egregious everyday annoyances that make your workplace substantially more noxious than it needs to be. They don’t happen in a vacuum. They are transactional flaws performed by one person against others."

They are:

1.Winning too much: The need to win at all costs and in all situations – when it matters, when it doesn’t and when it’s totally beside the point.

2.Adding too much value: The overwhelming desire to add our two cents to every discussion.

3.Passing judgment: The need to rate others and impose our standards on them.

4.Making destructive comments: The needless sarcasm and cutting remarks that we think make us sound sharp and witty.

5.Starting with “No,” “But,” or “However,": The overuse of these negative qualifies which secretly say to everyone, “I’m right. You’re wrong.”

6.Telling the world how smart we are: The need to show people we’re smarter than they think we are.

7.Speaking when angry: Using emotional volatility as a management tool.

8.Negativity or “Let me explain why that won’t work": The need to share our negative thoughts even when we weren’t asked.

9.Withholding information: The refusal to share information in order to maintain an advantage over others.

10.Failing to give proper recognition: The inability to praise and reward.

11.Claiming credit that we don’t deserve: The most annoying way to overestimate our contribution to any success.

12.Making excuses: The need to reposition our annoying behavior as a permanent fixture so people excuse us for it.

13.Clinging to the past: The need to deflect blame away from ourselves and onto events and people from our past; a subset of blaming everyone else.

14.Playing favorites: Failing to see that we are treating someone unfairly.

15.Refusing to express regret: The inability to take responsibility for our actions, admit we’re wrong or recognize how our actions affect others.

16.Not listening: The most passive-aggressive form of disrespect for colleagues.

17.Failing to express gratitude: The most basic form of bad manners.

18.Punishing the messenger: The misguided need to attack the innocent who are usually only trying to help us.

19.Passing the buck: The need to blame everyone but ourselves.

20.An excessive need to be “me": Exalting our faults as virtues simply because they’re who we are.

There’s a chapter devoted to each of these flaws which are profound in their simplicity and accessibility. Goldsmith cautions against self-diagnosis and the need for the quick fix – which is why I think his insights and methods for changing for the better are an excellent template for a Mutual Ministry Evaluation/Review.

Indeed, his ‘Seven Ways We Can Change For The Better’ include: feedback, confrontation, apology, advertise efforts to improve, follow-up monthly for feedback, listen without prejudice, gratitude and something he calls ‘feedforward’.

If you have read this book or have been inspired to read it (I make no profit in sales from this book. Honest.), I’d love to hear your thoughts on how to structure an evaluation tool.

Specifically, to clergy: How does this strike you as a way to evaluate and move the vision of the mission and ministry of you congregation?

To members of the laity: Does this seem like a helpful way to evaluate the mission and ministry we share? Would you find this tool helpful in your work, your home, and/or other organizations you serve in leadership?

Thanks for thinking on these things.

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